“Peace begins where expectation ends.”

– Sri Chinmoy

Life is difficult. Life is filled with struggles. These statements are undeniably true, but tell only part of the story.

For many of us, expectations about how life should be act as a filter upon our experience. If we expect that our lives will be an uninterrupted string of successes and triumphs, we are destined for real disappointment.

On the other hand, if we expect our lives to be a mixture of the bitter with the sweet, we have a more realistic “road map” moving forward.

One way to think about this issue is to compare problems with annoyances. Real problems are real; we all know this. Real problems might include serious illness, financial debt, loss of a loved one or some form of abuse.

These problems have to be acknowledged and addressed head-on; often we need to call in others for assistance and support.

Contrast the problems described above with what I call annoyances. In my line of work, I hear about many of them. Annoyances include rude drivers, surly teenagers, gossipy co-workers, bad hair days or a really long line at the Starbucks drive through.

All of these things detract somewhat from the quality and mood of your day. However, it is up to you how much impact you allow.

If I begin my day knowing that a few annoyances will likely occur, then I am not surprised and, I hope, not enraged when they appear.

Realistic daily expectations provide grounding and position us to live each day fully and authentically. If we greet each day with eyes wide open to the stunning spectrum of human experience, we are prepared for whatever the universe has in store for us.

We take ownership of our experience when we decide if something is just an annoyance or a problem that merits serious attention.

We have all heard Dr. Richard Carlson’s advice, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” since his book was published in 1997. We do well to heed the “Don’t sweat” wisdom and identify annoyances for what they are – small stuff.

Maria Malcolm, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and associate with Psychological & Counseling Associates of the Lowcountry, LLC in Bluffton.